Isoscapes are increasingly used by scientists, educators, and practitioners in a wide range of fields:

Climate change research

Spatially varying isotopic compositions label elements in substances such as water and carbon dioxide as they flux within and between the Earth surface and the atmosphere. Identifying and understanding these patterns of isotopic variation enables their use to quantify the fluxes and processes involved for example determining the sources of freshwater recharge to aquifers, pathways of water transport by the atmosphere, and sinks of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A constantly evolving suite of isoscape-based applications facilitates new analyses and advances in understanding the mechanisms and impacts of climate change.


Variation in environmental isotope ratios over a range of spatial and temporal scales can be used to infer resource utilization, ecosystem-level biogeochemistry, and animal movement. Models of isotopic variation in the environment provide a template for interpreting observational data and developing new applications in the field.


Statistically defensible isoscapes constitute a foundation for the application of stable isotopes to questions of authenticity and provenance, whether with respect to trade goods, illicit products, animals or humans. Improvements in spatial analysis of isotope data, including both advances to existing models and work in new isotope systems and on new substrates underlie a growing suite of applications supporting forensic investigation and enforcement.


Stable isotopes are inherent recorders of basic Earth systems processes: the cycling of water and carbon, the movement of animals, or the alteration and exploitation of geo and eco-systems by man. As such, isotope-based activities support hand-on learning about real-world phenomena using real, relevant scientific data. Gridded maps and interactive web-based modeling tools, such as those provided by, have increased accessibility to stable isotope data and information, leading to the development of new theoretical and practical classroom exercises.


Isoscapes and spatial isotope applications [Bowen et al., 2009]. A) Isotope map showing variation in the carbon isotope ratio of atmospheric CO2 with latitude and time from the NOAA Global Flask Network of over 55 sites. This product can be used to partition CO2 fluxes (e.g., terrestrial vs. ocean uptake or release) through inverse modeling (credit: INSTAAR, University of Colorado and NOAA/GMD). B) Connectivity between migratory bird (American Redstart) winter (dots) and summer ranges (polygons) based on comparison of feather H isotope ratios to an isotope map for H in water (background color; based on data from the IAEA/WMO Global Network for Isotopes in Precipitation GNIP). Bars show the fraction of birds sampled at each wintering site that were assigned to each summer range based on a maximum likelihood criterion [modified from Norris et al., 2006].